Welcome back to Monetized History, I’m
Daniel, and today I’m going to talk about Arturo Prat, Diego Portales, the first
Chilean naval squadron, and the Chilean 1981 50 peso banknote. This series of
notes was introduced in 1975 when the second peso replaced the Escudo. The
Escudo fell victim to hyperinflation brought about by the presidency of
Salvador Allende and the interventions of foreign governments. Although the
inflation had moderated a bit after Pinochet took power in 1973, the average
annual inflation rate between 1976 and 1980 was still over 88%, which meant that
the 1981 series would be the last 50 peso note produced. Today, 50 Chilean
pesos are worth about 7 cents but despite its low face value it still sold
on eBay from between $2 for a heavily circulated note to over $35 for an
uncirculated replacement note. As far assecurity elements go, this note has UV
reactive ink highlighting design elements on the front and revealing the
denomination on the back, and a watermark of 19th century Chilean politician Diego
Portales on the left of the obverse. Diego Jose Pedro Victor Portales y
Palazuelos was the de facto ruler of Chile from 1830 until his death in 1837.
He was a very unpopular ruler of a conservative, authoritarian government,
and during the War of Confederation between Chile, Argentina, and the Peru-Bolivian Confederation, Portales was taken prisoner by a Chilean general
opposed to the war. When the insurrection failed, Portales was shot and killed.
The Chilean public blamed the leader of the Peru-Bolivian Confederation for
orchestrating his assassination and rallied behind their government, turning
Portales from a despised dictator to a beloved martyr. The main feature on the
front of the note is a portrait of Agustín Arturo Prat Chacón based on a
drawing by Chilean illustrator Luis Fernando Rojas.
Arturo Prat was a captain in the Chilean Navy who’s best known for his
stand against the Peruvian Navy during the War of the Pacific. Earlier in his
career he was an instructor at the Chilean naval academy as well as a
lawyer. When the War of the Pacific began in 1879 he was sent to blockade the then-Peruvian town of Iquique aboard an old wooden steam-powered warship called the
Esmeralda. The Peruvians sent the legendary naval commander Miguel Grau
to break the blockade. Grau’s forces vastly overpowered the
Chileans but Prat prevented Grau from using his cannons by placing the
Esmerelda between Iquique and Grau’s ship the Huáscar. Being unable to effectively fire
upon the Esmerelda, Grau charged it instead, and although the Esmeralda’s
cannons were unable to penetrate the Huáscar’s armored hull, Grau’s 300-pound
cannons literally tore the Esmerelda to pieces. Pratt gave the order to storm the deck of the Huáscar in an attempt to capture
the boat, but in the chaos of the battle he was only followed by one person. Both
of them were quickly shot by snipers. The remaining sailors aboard the Esmerelda
attempted to storm the boat and recover his body, but they were cut down by the
wash cars Gatling gun. By the end of the battle nearly 75% of the crew of the
Esmerelda was dead. Grau had a reputation as a man of honor and both friends and enemies called him the “Gentlemen of the Sea.” He gave all of the Chilean dead an
honorable burial in Iquique, recovered Prat’s possessions and mailed them to
his wife along with a letter expressing his condolences. When the
public learned of Prat’s death they enlisted in the Army and the Navy in
droves. So even though Chile lost the Battle of Iquique, because of Prat’s sacrifice, they would go on to win the War of the Pacific. The reverse of the
note features an engraving of a painting by Thomas Somerscales depicting the
first national squadron of Chile on their way to liberate Peru from the
Spanish in 1820. Both this painting and the portrait of Prat on the front of
the note were engraved by prolific Spanish engraver Jose Moreno Benavente
whose work can be seen on many Chilean banknotes and stamps from the 30s to the 70s.
The ship in the foreground is the O’Higgins which was the flagship of the
liberating fleet. Less than a year after its departure, the fleet landed in Lima and
declared Peru’s independence. By 1826 the last vestiges of the Spanish Empire would be driven from South America by the Chilean Navy. Thank you so much for
watching, I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions please leave me a
comment. We’ll be back next week and don’t forget to Like and Subscribe.